Germany should “exclude the stationing of US nuclear weapons in the future,” Rolf Mützenich, the leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) in the Bundestag, declared.
“Nuclear weapons on German territory do not heighten our security, just the opposite,” Mützenich said in an interview with Der Tagesspiegel.
Mützenich added that the time has come for Germany to rule out a future stationing. After all, the Democrat said, other countries have done so “without questioning NATO.”
This once again raised a wave of discussions about US military presence in Germany and Europe, as well as general doubts about the effectiveness of the NATO bloc.
Debates among German politicians
Mützenich made his declaration right after Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (who also leads the CDU) proposed replacing the Tornado aircraft currently used by Germany’s military with Eurofighter and US F-18 multirole combat jets.
NATO requires F-18s to be present in member states equipped to participate in its nuclear deterrence strategy.
The Social Democrats accused Kramp-Carrenbauer of promising Secretary of Defense Mark Esper the purchase of an F-18 jet capable of carrying nuclear warheads without consulting his coalition partner.
Mützenich questioned the need to purchase the F-18. In his assessment, given the changes in US policy (and changes in nuclear strategy) and the unpredictable behavior of US President Donald Trump, the risk of escalation becomes “incalculable.”
Some politicians supported Mützenich’s idea, while others categorically rejected it, referring to the need for solidarity within NATO.
SPD member Norbert Walter Borjans is one of those who supported the idea of.
He noted that he was opposed to the deployment, as well as the control and use of American nuclear weapons.
In an interview with EURACTIV, the SPD deputy leader in the Bundestag, Gabriela Heinrich, said that she would like to discuss the F-18 question openly.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has presented tough opposition to the SPD.
“Unilateral steps that undermine trust will not bring us any closer to the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world,” Maas said.
Einseitige Schritte, die Vertrauen untergraben, bringen uns dem Ziel einer atomwaffenfreien Welt nicht näher – sie schwächen unsere Bündnisse. Statt als starke Stimme für Abrüstung und Rüstungskontrolle mitzureden, säße Deutschland nicht mehr am Tisch. https://t.co/2bx0e2iIHr
— Heiko Maas 🇪🇺 (@HeikoMaas) May 4, 2020
Anita Schäfer, a member of the Bundestag’s disarmament committee, told EURACTIV that “renunciation of nuclear sharing” by Germany would have “devastating consequences” for pan-European security.
In her assessment, such a step contradicts coalition agreements.
Some emphasized the untimely nature of such ideas.
FDP defense affairs spokeswoman Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann called it “the wrong signal at the wrong time.”
According to her, ongoing quarrels and disagreements over foreign and security policy in NATO damages Germany’s reputation in the world. Strack-Zimmermann noted that it is naive to assume that Germany will be as influential in the nuclear sphere in the block after the withdrawal of American weapons. She called for a quick decision to replace Tornado aircraft with new weapons.
Where do American weapons in Germany come from?
The US deployed its nuclear weapons in Germany in 1955 – exactly how much are stored in the European country remains a mystery. This secrecy and growing dependence on American influence has already repeatedly raised the question of the advisability of storage. According to ICAN, there are about 20 warheads at Büchel Air Base in Rhineland-Palatinate.
The idea goes back to the times of the Cold War and the NATO nuclear deterrence strategy aimed at confrontation with the Soviet Union. NATO members have established their weapons on the basis of the 1954 Convention on the Presence of Foreign Troops in the Federal Republic of Germany. The treaty, which made sense in the post-war period, still governs the conditions for the deployment of NATO troops in Germany.
The Cold War is over and the bombs are left behind. For many Germans, the declassification of the base was a real shock. The German government had never officially confirmed the existence of atomic bombs in Büchel for fear of being accused of revealing state secrets. Germany’s participation in the “nuclear weapons sharing agreement” was always officially recognized.
American bombs are guarded by American soldiers at the German base, but in theory, in the event of a conflict, can be transferred to the crews and aircraft of the German armed forces. In fact, the territories are open only to Americans – even the German soldiers themselves are often not aware of what is happening on the closed bases.
“It’s all so top-secret that you never know whether the plane has loaded Coca-Cola or bombs” one German pilot told DW.
It is important to note that back in March 2010, the German Bundestag adopted an inter-party resolution calling on the government to work “persistently” to force their American allies to withdraw all nuclear weapons from Germany. However, the Crimean events in 2014 became an occasion to postpone the initiative due to the so-called “Russian threat”.
Germany is still a strategic point for the US given the location of the headquarters of the US European Command (EUCOM) in the southwestern city of Stuttgart, from which it serves as a coordinating structure for all US forces in 51 countries. Germany has the largest number of US troops in Europe, approximately 38,600, although their numbers vary as troops rotate regularly to other countries. Plus, US military presence in Germany is not limited to personnel: Americans also keep planes at other non-US air bases in Germany.
The US African Command HQ (Africom) is also based at Kelley Barracks near Stuttgart.
In recent years, however, the number of US troops stationed in Germany has more than halved, from 72,400 to 33,250, as the US military has responded to a changing and increasingly complex global security situation.
Due to all factors (cost, unjustified presence, danger, etc.) many opposition parties – not only the SPD, but also the “Green” – are opposed to the placement of nuclear warheads. Thus, Tobias Lindner, a member of parliament from the opposition Green party, called the nuclear weapons sharing agreement with Germany “an expensive, dangerous and outdated” symbolic contribution to having the right to vote in NATO. In his assessment, since the bloc is afraid of Russian attacks, it would be more logical to invest in missile defense systems rather than a nuclear arsenal.
US’ plans: a curious leak
One of the topics under discussion in Europe was the leak of a draft report to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in July 2019, which identified storage sites for nuclear weapons.
The project noted that within the framework of NATO joint programs, the US is deploying about 150 nuclear warheads in Europe, in particular B61 bombs.
The nuclear sites indicated were Kleine Brogel in Belgium, Büchel in Germany, Aviano and Ghedi-Torre in Italy, Volkel in the Netherlands and Inçirlik in Turkey.
In the updated version of the report, notes DeMorgen, the details of the location were no longer specified, but have nonetheless resurfaced and caused a wave of negative reactions.
Skeptics (both supporters and opponents of the withdrawal of American weapons) believe that despite the clear majority of its citizens who are strongly opposed to nuclear weapons, it seems unlikely that Germany will withdraw from this deal in the near future.
Germany is not the first country to question its commitment to agreements with the US on arms issues. Recently, a new wave of discussions was raised by French President Emmanuelle Macron, who announced NATO’s comatose state. As we noted in another UWI article, Macron is promoting the idea of French nuclear self-sufficiency, and even more, with a claim to French nuclear domination in the European region.
Debates on the dismantlement of US nuclear weapons in early 2020 also rose in Belgium when it came to joining the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
Proponents of American weapons and solidarity with NATO claim that the US abandonment of nuclear warheads will weaken Germany and give advantage to weaker countries such as Poland, which will more easily agree to cooperate with the Americans.
However, opponents of reliance on the transatlantic alliance are increasingly stressing the unnecessary and dangerous storage of nuclear weapons. Obviously, the US continues to impose the need for nuclear deterrence on European countries as part of the mythical “Russian threat” (although there are no signs of an impending attack by Moscow).
In addition to using the territories of European countries as its own, the US is forcing them to sign expensive new contracts and putting them in elementary danger (storage of nuclear warheads is obviously extremely dangerous).
Can Europe become militarily independent?
Thus, the withdrawal of US weapons could be the first step towards Europe’s military independence from the NATO coalition, having long ago lost its direct purpose. As we wrote earlier, the question of Europe creating its own army is long overdue.
One of the initiatives, PESCO, continues to be developed as a potential EU tool for coordinating Member States (25 so far). The problem is that the project supports cooperation with NATO as one of its pillars, i.e. it operates on the basis of the idea that the EU and NATO can mutually reinforce each other in security and defence issues.
If the countries fail to agree, the alternative to NATO will be to “pull the nuclear blanket” for leadership in Europe, and in this competition France, unlike Germany, has a good chance of establishing military autonomy. If successful, Paris could even become a geopolitical leader in Europe, and perhaps under a different president (focused on the interests of the people, and banks and corporations) Europe as a pole could stabilize relations with Eurasia.
In any case, it is obvious that NATO is in deep crisis. Trump himself has several times expressed the idea of the block’s ineffectiveness, but the military establishment will not accept such ideas and insists on military expansion in Europe. Only Europeans themselves can resist this aggression and find effective solutions to maintaining their security.